On Fire

Larry Schwarm

A mesmerizing series of photographs of prairie fires that transport us from moments of almost apocalyptic splendor to the stillness of near abstraction. For nearly two decades Kansas-based photographer Larry Schwarm has been making extraordinary color photographs of the dramatic prairie fires that sweep across the vast grasslands of his native state each spring. Fire is an essential element of the ecosystem. Every spring, the expanses of tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills of east-central Kansas undergo controlled burning.

For Schwarm, documenting these fires has become a passion. He captures the essence of the fires and their distinct personalities—ranging from calm and lyrical to angry and raging—and his photos allow us to see the redemptive power of fire and to remove ourselves from its tragic elements. Schwarm connects the enormous power and devastation of fire to what can only be identified as another kind of creation—the creation of beauty.

Selected by Robert Adams to win the 2002 CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography

“Schwarm’s pictures show flames stretching in unexpectedly polite lines over the Flint Hills. . . . Behind the advancing incandescence, [the] pictures show the ground blackened and rocky as the moon. The last picture in On Fire is of the Flint Hills in spring, fresh with new plant life. . . . There is not a single person in these lovely photographs, just the ancient peacefulness of Nature’s begin-and-cease.”
Times Literary Supplement

“In fire, smoke, and ash, Larry Schwarm found his paints, brush, and canvas . . . like the Color Field painters of the 1950s and 1960s, such as Mark Rothko, a favorite inspiration. . . . The contrasts and magic and skill of the images caught the eye of Robert Adams. . . . ‘In our world, which is very rational and highly urban, this work went back and rediscovered some basic mysteries: life and death, light and darkness.”
Photo District News

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On Fire
68 Color photographs
Duke University Press and Lyndhurst Books of the Center for Documentary Studies
Publication Year: 
Number Of Pages: 
10" x 10"